In 1950’s America, the equality of man envisioned by the Declaration ofIndependence was far from a reality. People of color — Blacks,Hispanics, Asians — were discriminated against in many ways, both overtand covert. The 1950-1960’s were turbulent times in America, whenracial barriers began to come down due to Supreme Court decisions, likeBrown v. Board of Education; and due to an increase in the activism ofblacks, fighting for equal rights. One man among many is rememberedtoday, Martin Luther King Jr., as he stood up and fought thenon-violent fight for peace and equality.
Today we honor Martin Luther King Jr., the chief spokesmanfor non-violent activism in the civil rights movement. He successfullyprotested racial discrimination in federal and state law. He was agreat man of great vision. His life was unfortunately cut short when hewas assassinated in 1968.
He is probably best remembered for his speech titled “I have a dream” (posted below)
As this is primarily a criminal defense law blog, I thoughtwe could take a look at Dr. King Jr.’s criminal record. Even Heroeshave a run-in with the law. According to our research we found 5arrests in Dr. King Jr.’s history.
On May 4, 1960, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was arrestedfor driving without a Georgia license. This seems to be the mosthonest and legitimate arrest in his record. That should say somethingabout the other arrests since records indicate that he had a licensefrom Alabama at the time.
A few months later (October 19, 1960) Dr. King Jr. wasarrested during a sit-in at a Rich’s lunch counter in Atlanta. Thissit-in was instigated by the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights(COAHR). They organized workshops and training sessions on the strategyand tactics of non-violent resistance and began recruiting studentswilling to take an oath of non-violence and sit-in at local lunchcounters. The students asked Dr. King to join them in sit-ins atRich’s restaurants, including the upscale Magnolia Tea Room on Rich’s6th floor. Though he was reluctant to be arrested due to legal troublesstemming from his Movement activities in Alabama, Dr. King participatedand was hauled off to jail with the students. In solidarity with thosewho were following the “Jail-No-Bail” strategy, he refused to post bondand remained imprisoned.
On October 25, 1960 Dr. King Jr. was sent to Reidsville State Prison(GA) for parole violation stemming from his the May 4, 1960 arrest for”driving without a license.” The next day Robert Kennedy calls GeorgiaGovernor Ernest Vandiver seeking Dr. King’s release from prison. Hewas released two days later.
Over a year later (December 16, 1961) Martin Luther King Jr.was arrested in Albany, Georgia while attempting to desegregate publicfacilities in the city. The arrest stemmed from SNCC’s voterregistration project earlier that year. After escalation ofnon-violent protests the result was over 600 people in jail. At thatpoint the Albany Movement asked Dr. King Jr. and SCLC for support. Morethan 1500 people pack both the Shiloh and Mt. Zion churches (across thestreet from each other) to hear Dr. King’s address. The next day Dr.King and Abernathy lead 265 marchers to City Hall. They were allarrested, bringing the total number of arrests to over 750. Along withothers, Dr. King was transferred to Sumter County jail in Americus.Enough bail money was scraped up to free a few leaders to continue thestruggle and raise funds, but King announced that he would remainincarcerated over Christmas to protest segregation and denial of basichuman rights.
On February 27, 1962 Martin Luther King was convicted ofminor offenses in Albany, Georgia as a result of his attempt todesegregate that city, however other charges remained pending
On July 10, 1962 Rev. Martin Luther King and Rev. Ralph David Abernathywere convicted of charges stemming from his 1961 attempt to desegregategovernment buildings in Albany, Georgia. He is sentenced to a 45-dayjail term.
Finally on April 12, 1963 Dr. Martin Luther King, representing theSouthern Christian Leadership Conference, was arrested in Birmingham,AL, for contempt of court and parading without a permit. He went toBirmingham in an attempt to integrate public facilities in accordancewith Supreme Court rulings. While in jail he composed his response toa public letter from 8 clergymen (who were white) criticizing him forbreaking the law. King responded that “We have waited 340 years forour constitutional and God-given rights. …it is easy for those whohave never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say “wait.””
I would like to say “Thank You” to my audience and a special “Thank You” to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.